As teams of the Bihar government and central agencies try to unravel the exact reason for the death of over 150 children suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, a preliminary survey points at poverty and not litchi as one of the major factors behind the deaths of these children and throws up some startling revelations.
The socio-economic survey covered 289 families in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district. It showed that 280 families are below poverty line where the breadwinner worked as daily wage worker.
In these families, just 29 girls were beneficiaries of Mukhyamantri Kanya Utthan Yojana, a scheme to give monetary assistance to the girl child. Ninety-nine families received Indira Awaas or PM housing scheme benefits.
Most of the families have more than three children, 96 have no ration card and 124 families didn't get ration from the public distribution system last month. Only 159 of these families got ambulances to carry their children to hospital in Muzaffarpur.
An analysis of 383 AES patients, including the 100 who died till Wednesday, admitted to hospitals show that 223 were girls and 159 were boys.
Most of the patients (84 girls and 51 boys) were in the age group of 1-3 and were unlikely to visit litchi orchards. Then there were 70 girls and 43 boys in the age group of 3-5, 36 girls and 31 boys who were 5-7 years old, 19 girls and 14 boys in the 7-9 age category, 10 boys and 7 girls in the 9-11 age group and seven boys and one girl who were 11 years old and above. Six girls and three boys were in the age group of one and below.
An overwhelming majority of the patients, (over 97 per cent) had hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar level.
AES, known as 'brain fever' is caused by any one of a number of viruses. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
The precise causes of AES are not known, though a majority of medical professionals say it is linked to a ferocious heat-wave.
Even if litchis are to blame the deaths could probably been avoided if people had access to better health care, experts say.
India was ranked 103 of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index last year. It spends just over one percent of its national income on health care -- one of the lowest in the world.